There may be a time when organizations deliver a massive amount of
learning to their troops via mobile devices - be they iPhones,
netbooks, and handhelds of any stripe. But that day is not yet
"Emerging technologies, like all new ideas, promise the possibility
of significant benefits," notes a new whitepaper from SumTotal
Systems. "In the initial stages of adoption, however, those
benefits can be difficult to fully reveal. Real success comes only
when the factors that drive a technology to grow are strong enough
to outweigh any existing limitations." The report, The Top Five
Emerging Trends in Learning Technology, suggests: "In the field of
learning management, this frequently means user support or demand
must be counted among a technology's strengths if it is to thrive.
Not surprisingly, users have wielded their unique power to greatly
impact today's top five learning technology trends."
The whitepaper suggests that trend number 1 will be the adoption of
mobile devices for learning delivery. "No matter where you go on
the globe, you can't escape mobile devices," the report notes. "In
fact, according to a study by the Market Intelligence Center in
Taiwan, our planet will hold an astonishing 3.3 billion mobile
subscribers by 2010 - possibly more than a third of the world's
total projected population. It's no wonder, then, that mobile users
are now looking to take learning technology on the road."
That doesn't mean, however, that mobile devices will become an
immediate boon to workplace learning and performance. "Companies
tend to look at mobile technology as tools that can help with
repeatable processes, or tools that can be used to deliver learning
materials," explains Bill Docherty, senior director of product
management for SumTotal. "People aren't doing a lot of the latter,
unless it is the delivery of static content that isn't likely to
change. It's more like PDF documents or Word files - support
materials. Developing actual interactive content is something we
don't see a lot of yet, for a variety of reasons."
For the backers of mobile learning, the technology is both its promise and its curse. "One reason is that the technology to create the content is not mature enough. And second is the issue of obsolescence," says Docherty. You (can) become dependent on browser or other device-dependent technologies. One way to avoid obsolescence is to steer away from technology that has not been standardized.
"Many companies are looking at items that are process- or
tools-based. Vendors are producing solutions, purely based on HTML,
that are small applications and device-independent. The way to
protect yourself from obsolescence is to focus on document-based
materials that you know will run cross-platform."
More ready than others
Some industries may be quicker to embrace mobile learning than
others. And some will be more prepared than others. Much of the
decision will be based on the employees themselves.
"One factor is the user base," explains Docherty. "Retail is an
example where there is a lot of adoption. Much of that is because a
lot of people drawn into retail are younger employees in many
cases. Not only are they experienced with this technology, they
expect it. It is a recruiting tool in some cases as well. Companies
can show they are very technology-savvy and they are going to
deliver knowledge to employees in a way the employees are used to
Even though many retailers employ cutting-edge technology on their
point-of-sale systems, some will be slow to adopt mobile learning,
says Docherty, due to a lack of bandwidth at the store level. Often
the issue is very low-band communication among the stores, such as
satellite communications. The IT organizations within those
companies are very protective of bandwidth because the first
priority is serving the point-of-sale.
The challenge for other industries is the maturity of their
infrastructure. Manufacturing can be difficult. "In some
manufacturing environments, the concept of delivering this learning
on mobile devices is the question of whether they have wireless
access throughout the manufacturing facility," adds Docherty.
For nonretailers the roadblocks to mobile learning are as varied as
the companies themselves. "Some of the challenge is demographic and
some of it is culture," explains Docherty. "It might be a legacy
cultural challenge, or it might be culture that is reinforced by
some underlying business reason. Some organizations feel concerns
about delivering materials on mobile devices because they fear a
loss of control. In some industries - healthcare and pharmaceutical
or any regulated industr - there is a concern about putting out
content on these kinds of devices because of how it is widely